[Film Review] The Trouble with Harry (1955)

The Trouble with Harry poster

Title: The Trouble with Harry
Year: 1955
Country: USA
Language: English
Genre: Comedy, Mystery, Romance
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Writer: John Michael Hayes
based on the novel by Jack Trevor Story
Music: Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography: Robert Burks
John Forsythe
Edmund Gwenn
Shirley MacLaine
Mildred Natwick
Mildred Dunnock
Jerry Mathers
Royal Dano
Parker Fennelly
Dwight Marfield
Rating: 6.7/10

The Trouble with Harry 1955

Like gold dust, THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY is Hitchcock’s fickle dalliance with black comedy, which opens with its spectacular VistaVision variegation of autumn foliage in a Vermont countryside, where a young boy Arnie (Mathers) accidentally finds a man’s corpse, later we know his name is Harry and he was not from the village, apparently several residents are involved in the death of Harry.

There is Captain Wiles (Gwenn), who believes that he killed Harry with a stray shot from his rifle while he was hunting rabbits, but soon would find all three recipients of his bullets and Harry is not one of them; then the spinster Miss Gravely (Natwick), who claims to kill Harry with the heel of her boot when the latter surprisingly plunges on her from the wood, but why would Harry attack her in the first place? Now, drumroll please, a third key character is Jennifer Rogers (MacLaine), Arnie’s mother, she confesses that Harry is her estranged husband, who arrived earlier that day and she hit him with a milk bottle over some divide (nudge nudge wink wink) between them before he headed out towards the wood. So, presumably, a woozy Harry must mistake Miss Gravely for his wife. But is that all the truth about Harry’s death, please wait and see.

A fourth main character is the local painter Sam Marlowe (Forsythe), when he stumbles upon Harry’s body, he draws a portrait of the deceased out of the artistic stimuli, which in due course would trigger the suspicion of Calvin Wiggs (Dano), the Deputy Sheriff. But before that, during the unfolding of the trouble with Harry, Sam and Jennifer become an item, so are Captain Wiles and Miss Gravely, small-town bonhomie does engender romance in a rapid fashion! In fact, the whole film takes place with a full circle of 24-hours, and poor Harry, not only he is afflicted with a weak heart and drop dead in an unfamiliar soil, his body has also been buried and dug out several times and what are all the reasons behind the three-ring circus? As Jennifer blurts out near the end – “I can’t remember why”.

In all fairness, one cannot acknowledge that Hitchcock is a protean filmmaker, certainly comedy doesn’t go with his style, despite that the story revolves around a macabre mystery, some red herring is predictably but uncannily thrown in the audience’s face (the closet door in Jennifer’s house), however, when the tension and suspense take a back seat, the chummy and cheesy character building and illogical whimsies frustratingly miss the mark.

Shirley MacLaine is extraordinarily photogenic in her film debut, but cast a barely 20-year-older as a single mother is something a travesty (she must be married at the age of 13) and John Forsythe is simply anemic in attempting to heat up the chemistry with her. Yet, it is rather pleasing to see the plot-line around Mildred Natwick and Edmund Gwenn doesn’t retreat to the second fiddler when the plot thickens, the quartet remains inseparable through the middle point until the finish line, and certainly the two veterans are more at ease with the tall tale setting and wearing their hearts on their sleeve, so is Mildred Dunnock, who plays Mrs. Wiggs, diligently and dutifully.

The film might be simply labeled as a less crowd-pleaser in Hitchcock’s oeuvre, but it is the auteur’s own favourite, and it also marks the beginning of the renowned Hermann-Hitchcock collaboration, while THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY loses out on the usual Hitchcock-ian trappings, it actually pushes Herrmann’s tremendously bewitching work to the foreground, it is lyrical, idyllic and sheer optimum.

Oscar 1955  The Trouble with Harry

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